I’ve always written. I started my first novel when I was fifteen. (It was dire, and I never finished, but I loved writing it.) It took me years to actually tell anyone I wrote, and even more years before I would let anyone read what I’d produced.
I didn’t begin with short stories because as a reader I prefer novels, so that’s where I started. My first completed novel, written longhand, was years (and I mean probably fifteen years) in development. It wasn’t until a friend lent me her Amstrad PCW in the mid 1990s that I managed to get it into a typed manuscript format. Then, through a friend of a friend of a friend, (and that friend three times removed just happened to be Anne McCaffrey) I acquired an agent (not the one I have now) and that novel went whooshing off into the ether. Sadly, though it did get a ‘we nearly bought this’ letter from HarperCollins, it didn’t sell. In the meantime I’d continued writing more novels.
I got my first short story publication, courtesy of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, in an anthology she edited for DAW (Warrior Princesses). I won’t bore you with the details, but it was my first validation—the first time someone had said (not in these words) ‘Your writing doesn’t suck too badly, here’s some money for it.’
After that came a lot more rejections and only a handful of short story sales over the next sixteen years! But I never gave in, never surrendered. I kept on writing. Unfortunately I only submitted stories occasionally. You see, for me back then, the goal was writing, not publishing, so though I did submit, I didn’t do it all that enthusiastically, or regularly. When the rejections came whistling back, they didn’t upset me, because I always suffered from ‘impostor syndrome’ anyway. I owned my rejections because I wasn’t a real writer, was I? So rejections were my due.
So the upside of Impostor Syndrome is that I can take rejections in my stride – which is a good job because I’ve had a fair few of them over the years. Even so, I’ve never been cast down into a deep depression. Brief disappointment is the lowest level of ‘sad’ I’ve achieved, even with a novel rejection. Get the rejection, think business as usual, then, and carry on writing. Maybe it’s because I never expected success. So when success came (especially novel success) I still couldn’t quite believe it at first. Six novels later and I’m getting used to it.
Of course I have hopes and dreams of elbowing George R.R. Martin off the top of the best seller list (sorry, George, nothing personal) but I’m realistic. I know how much luck is involved in this business in addition to, and often separate from, talent, skill, hard work, or most probably a mixture of all three. I’m so happy that I’m published by a reputable publisher (DAW in the USA) and I have a great editor. I’ve learned a lot since this writing journey began. If the best seller thing happens, it happens, but I’m not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t. I’m exactly where I always dreamed of being.
As for rejection coping strategies, I try to keep my life compartmentalised. Writing is in one box, my day job is in another, and I’m separate from both of them with a key to each. It keeps disappointment at a distance. I not only know that rejections are not rejections of me, personally, but I actually believe it as well. (Knowing and believing can be difficult things to align.)
It might not work for everyone, but it works for me.
Good luck with your writing.